Since the Russian Supreme Court labeled Jehovah’s Witnesses an “extremist” group, vandals have targeted followers and their banks accounts have been frozen. Stones were thrown at a St. Petersburg assembly hall and someone tried to burn the Moscow home of a Jehovah’s Witness to the ground, a church spokesman said.

The ruling seems to have emboldened those who resent and fear the Witnesses, a religious minority that has suffered more than most in President Vladimir Putin’s Russia, where the Russian Orthodox Church enjoys the backing of the state and harassment of gays and other marginalized groups has spiked in recent years.

“We were hoping the court would realize that we are not a threat,” said Robert Warren, a spokesman for the Witnesses based in their New York world headquarters. “But now the environment is worse than ever.”

The court decision, say Jehovah’s Witnesses officials and human rights experts, has not been fully enforced. Worship, reports from the country indicate, continues at some of the “Kingdom Halls” that serve Russia’s more than 100,000 Witnesses.

But the possibility that the government will completely shut down the Jehovah’s Witnesses looms.

While Jehovah’s Witnesses prepare an appeal — and take heart in the condemnation of the court ruling from national and international bodies, including the U.S. State Department — they are not optimistic about a reversal of the ruling. And they worry for their brethren over the border in Kazakhstan, a former Soviet republic.

“In some ways the situation in Kazakhstan has deteriorated even faster,” said Felix Corley, an Oslo-based religious rights activist who edits the Forum 18 News Service, which tracks abuses in the former Soviet Union and Eastern Europe.

Earlier this month, a 61-year-old Jehovah’s Witness from Kazakhstan — a retired bus driver battling cancer — was sentenced to five years in prison and banned from preaching for three …read more

Source:: Deseret News – U.S. & World News

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